BPO: Not Just “Birthday Party Outsourcing”

When it comes to child-rearing, I’m in favour of outsourcing if you have the option and if you manage it in a way that works for you emotionally – i.e. it’s pointless to outsource if you’re going to be racked with guilt.

Over the years I’ve outsourced a huge range of activities. I’ve had the luxury of night nurses. I’ve outsourced the making of baby food and had it delivered to my doorstep. Despite numerous attempts at potty training – which are ongoing with my youngest –  my kids were/are more motivated to get out of nappies by their peers and teachers at play school. They are learning ball skills at tennis and playball. I’ve used party planners for their birthday parties a couple of times. On occasion, I may even outsource play-date supervision, cup-cake baking, bathing, hair washing and feeding. I make use of childminders at play areas, my children are members of the Kids Club at the gym and I’m in a lift club for school.

In contrast, I have a stay-at-home mom friend who has never employed the services of a night nurse. She successfully potty-trained her boys uncharacteristically early. She bakes their birthday cakes. And – I say this with love – she is not Martha Stewart. In the tequila-swigging days of our pre-children youth, her domestic repertoire consisted of one chicken dish. But she has learnt to bake for her boys. She plays football tirelessly with them, she cooks the family meals and she doesn’t lift club. Her kids have never been put to bed by a babysitter. Her husband made his firstborn’s mushy food from scratch when he started solids, slaving over the stove on weekends and freezing little ice cube portions. He baths the children every night if he’s not travelling for work and he does Saturday morning extra-murals.

In short, they are not prone to outsourcing. So I could not have been more surprised when they told me that their son was having biking lessons. I’m not sure what surprised me more: that such a service existed or that they had procured it.

I’d made some strides in the biking department: I’d researched to find the lightest possible bike available in SA for children and bought it. I’d vowed to run behind Chiara, holding her upright, every day, until she could ride. But just one lap around our postage stamp-sized pool was back-breaking. I’d enlisted David to do the same but even super fit, flexible, Ironman competitors have their limitations. He’d also finished a lap clutching his lower back. Consequently, this expensive piece of German engineering sat in our back garden and intimidated all three of us.

So when I heard that even the most hands-on parents I know had not taught their son to ride, I put in a call to the Bike Whisperer. He’s a tennis coach when he’s not teaching kids to ride and he arrived with patience, energy and tons of experience. Chiara LOVED the first lesson and couldn’t wait for the next. I felt hopeful. During the second lesson she moaned, she was listless and kept wanting to take breaks. I thought there was a strong chance we’d need to extend our five-lesson package. I chose not to watch the third lesson, but decided that we’d better put our backs into it again – quite literally – and planned a trip to Emmarentia that afternoon. Before we left, Chiara had a meltdown and demanded that we take her plastic scooter bike. We refused.

While David was getting Joe cycling-ready, Chiara and I went ahead to the entrance to Emmarentia. She climbed on her bike, asked me to hold her steady, proceeded to pedal three times and demanded that I let go. Off she went! I could not believe my eyes. She was riding!

BPO – Bicycle Proficiency Outsourcing – has proved way more efficient and effective than I could ever have imagined. And it’s got me thinking: if you can hire a sleep trainer who comes to you, why can’t you hire a travelling potty trainer in Sandton? I’m Googling that now…

Pink mohawk on the move!
Pink mohawk on the move!
Proud new rider!
Proud new rider!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Holiday with a Mamil: Take them to Madikwe, not Mauritius

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Ma-mil. Noun. The term “mamil” was coined in the 21st century and stands for “middle aged man in lycra”. It came about to refer to an increasing sub-set of the male species who spend large amounts of time in cycling or triathlon attire, training for amateur, endurance sporting events, with the aim of being awarded a circular object (usually bronze in colour) which can be hung about the neck.

Mamils have the ability to procreate, should they find a suitable partner to mate with. Mamil-related pursuits may or may not be present during the mating process. Often, instinctive Mamil behaviour begins in earnest once offspring have arrived on the scene.

Cycling is a favourite pursuit amongst Mamils. It enables them to be absent from the homestead for upwards of three to seven hours of a Saturday morning. From the time of waking, preparations begin. There is the pumping of tyres, the application of lubricants – both to the machine as well as to the person – the selection of tools, the mixing of special liquids to ensure hydration levels are maintained, and finally, a clothing choice must be made. Mamils are typically born with especially well-developed eye-sight which can detect brand names worn by packs of Mamils riding up ahead. This enables them to understand where in the pecking order, their fellow Mamils lie, in the real, hunter-gatherer, Monday-to-Friday, world.

Once the Mamils have been out on their bicycles for a number of hours, they will head off in groups, in search of food. This forms an important aspect of their socialization. Whether the groups integrate socially or not, they tend to cluster at the same set of watering holes. This allows them to keep an eye on the competition and to obtain a close-up view of who’s wearing what gear.

Once the Mamil has fed, he has little choice but to return to the homestead. By this time, he will understandably seek out some much-needed rest. It difficult for him to comprehend why his mate cannot empathise with this primal need. He has spent the week hunting, to provide for his family. The sixth day, is a day of riding and then of rest. On the seventh day, the Mamil would naturally be restless and edgy without a mandatory visit to the gym or a long run, depending on the season.

I married a Mamil – though he was neither middle-aged nor sporting lycra at the time. (With the exception of an incident involving a Speedo on Camps Bay beach in the summer of ’99, but we won’t go there.)

Holidays with Mamils (let alone their offspring) are not usually relaxed affairs. Food is often readily available – no hunting required – and this means that a Mamil usually has a heightened sense of portliness. This is followed by a desperate, animalistic instinct to exercise. If holidays are your idea of spending time with your Mamil mate, then Plett in December is a disaster. Mamils migrate south in the summer and descend upon the N2’s Engen garage on their bicycles each morning, to ride to Nature’s Valley and back. If you envisaged mornings at rock pools with your young children followed by family beach walks in search of pansy shells… think again. The Mamil might make it to the beach when the sun is nearing its highest point in the sky and the children are famished and exhausted.

Mauritius may seem a safe bet, with its coma-inducing humidity and hotel gyms equipped with three pieces of machinery. Not so. Resort pools cry out to the Mamil –  who is quietly attempting to mind his own business on a nearby lounger –  to “do laps! do laps!” And then there are invariably other Mamils around the pool who saunter over, sweat-drenched in their fluourescent Nike gear, obviously just in from a run. No Mamil likes to be outdone in this manner. I recall a particular Mauritius holiday, before my mate had begun his pursuit of Ironman. Unusually for a Mamil, he could barely swim. (I say this with love). Despite this, the idea of reading a book poolside for a week was so anxiety-inducing, that he took up windsurfing. He worked at it, morning and evening, capsizing more times than he stood up, but at least he was active. A summer holiday in the Alps meant hiking with children in backpacks, a boat trip on the Amazon meant traipsing through mosquito-infested swamps in a desperate attempt to raise his heart-rate. In short, a day without exercise was a day wasted.

Until I took my Mamil to Madikwe last month….Surrounded by wild mammals, he was trapped. We woke up in the morning, we readied ourselves for breakfast in a leisurely fashion, we ate, we strolled to the pool, we played board games and kicked balls around, we went to lunch, we napped and we read, we went on an afternoon game drive, we bathed the kids, we ate supper, we went to bed and repeated all this for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Okay, there was an instance when we tried to march around the camp while the kids rode their bikes. David even had my Garmin Forerunner and was measuring our distance intensely but after about 10 laps, we’d covered a grand total of about 1km, the bikes had punctured from the thorns and we called it a day. There was also an attempt to turn the 1980’s rockery around the pool into a rock-climbing wall.

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This involved David teaching Chiara elaborate rock climbing moves. She then decided she wanted to do it all by herself, but she lost her footing and fell – SPLAT – into the pool. David responded by jumping in fully clothed. Thankfully, we now know that her instinct to swim when landing in deep water is fully honed, so there was actually no need for any David Hasselhoff moves. But at least David got his heart rate up once over the holiday…Moral of the story: mamils must be surrounded by other mammals and then they will ignore nature’s constant calling and actually relax!

Flying with Kids: Who Needs Pants Anyway?

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You know those recurring nightmares where you dream that you go to school/ to town/ to a party without any pants on? Well, sometimes dreams do come true…

Yesterday we flew to Port Elizabeth for this Sunday’s Ironman South Africa. The kids were wearing their “When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Ironman” t-shirts, David met a Kona qualifier (Ironman World Champs) in the row behind us so we were all excited and in good spirits. Plus we were travelling “light” – ie our car & trailer had been driven down to PE the day before. It was a one hour 4o minute flight with one parent per child, so I thought, “how hard can this be?”

Despite the fact that a 12:25pm take-off is clearly “lunch time” no matter where in the world you are, SAA is evidently cutting costs and served a packet of Lays crisps for “lunch”. Not the kind of rubbish I like to give my kids but I find that crisps do have their travel advantages compared to sweets and chocolate: they contain no caffeine and hardly any sugar so they shouldn’t make kids hyper, they don’t make kids sticky and they are loaded with a whole lot of crap that makes them taste great so they can keep kids busy for ages. For peace on an aeroplane, I am willing to overlook the health hazards…

I confess that I ate a few myself and noticed that the particular “sour cream & chives” variant is kind of rich. Joe, my 20 month old, is not used to being handed a bag of chips to do with what he likes, so before I knew it, he’d polished off two thirds of the bag.

Other than that, the flight wasn’t too bad. Not too much fighting over the Ipad, no number two’s and no major tantrums. But then as we were coming in to land, I realised that Joe was about to vomit. I could see the air sick bag in the pouch in front of me, but somehow I froze, holding my wretching son and hoping that he was done. By the third projection, I had mobilised myself to get hold of the bag and managed to catch some of that batch. Most of it, however, had gone all over him, all over my lap and then spilled over onto my seat, which now contained large flecks of sour cream Lays and some poorly chewed Trailmix (also courtesy of SAA). In order to avoid sitting in the vomit, I squatted above the seat for some time, but after a while my quads couldn’t handle the strain anymore and I surrendered and planted my arse in the squelch. By this time, Chiara (4) had produced a small sympathy vomit which David had managed to catch in a bag. She was holding her nose and pronouncing that Joe and I STANK and David was handing me bum wipes to try and mop up the vomit.

Welcome to Port Elizabeth.

We’d had a similar experience about 6 months earlier and it had been unpleasant only until I was able to get a clean pair of jeans out of my luggage once it arrived on the carousel. So this time, I just told myself to be patient until we got our bags. Just before the bags arrived, however, it dawned on me that I’d sent all my clothes for the trip ahead of us in the trailer (now parked at our hotel) and that I had only toiletries and a few kids’ items in my check-in luggage. My jeans were literally soaked in vomit, replete with little flecks of thrown up food which David noticed while we stood at the carousel and which he tried to remove with bum wipes (thank god for those things).

Walking to the toilets to change Joe, I considered my options. Maybe I could buy a pair of shorts or ANY bottoms at the airport? I surveyed the shops but all I could see in the way of clothing was mohair scarves in a gift store and then a tourist shop selling nothing but T-shirts. Absolutely nothing for the lower half of the body.

I changed Joe and carried on thinking. I could use a muslin or a baby blanket as a skirt. But of course, on this particular occasion, I really had packed light and had neither of those items. I actually could not stomach wearing my vomit drenched jeans a second longer. I would simply wear my long jacket. Except that when I put it on without pants I found it actually wasn’t long or even longish at all. If I stood dead still, it barely covered my panty line. All I could find was a cardigan which I tied around my waist so that at least from the back it looked like I was wearing shorts or a mini skirt covered by a jersey. From the front it look like, er, well, it looked like I didn’t have any bottoms on.

I marched back through the airport with throngs of Ironman competitors and supporters trying to hide the fact that I was half naked, by staying close to Joe’s pram. Maybe David had some bottoms in his luggage I could borrow. But he had also sent all his clothing in the trailer – which was probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had pulled on a pair of my Ironman husband’s pants and found they wouldn’t pass my thighs, I think my day would have gotten significantly worse. Instead, I climbed into the transfer vehicle and planted my handbag on my lap to cover my bare legs. When I got out, I tried to strategically position my bag in front of my things and then walked over to the front desk half hiding my lower body behind the pram.

The side view remained a bit of an issue…

I managed to survive the check-in procedure, the packed lobby and my fellow guests in the mirrored lifts…

Never in my life have I been so excited to see a hotel robe.

On the bright side, I don’t have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon on Sunday like all these crazy Ironman athletes. I am walking around in workout gear though, just so that I don’t stick out too much. Feels great to be wearing pants again!

#IronmanLakePlacid #firstworldproblems

David did his first ultra triathlon at Buffelspoort in March this year. A few weeks later he was itching for more and took a leap of faith by signing up for the half Ironman in St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. British Airways lost his bike (fortunately it arrived the night before the race) but he had the most incredible experience and loved the race. The bug had bitten and in early May we tucked the kids in and scoured the Ironman website in search of potential races. I was definitely going to New York at some point for sister bonding time and he was going wherever he could swim, bike, run. It meant we’d be apart alot so when he saw that there was a full Ironman in New York State, instead of being terrified, he was bursting with excitement. (Yes, people regularly tell him he’s mad and I totally concur).

When we told my parents-in-law of David’s plan to sign up for a full Ironman so that we could combine our travel objectives as a couple, his Dad stated the obvious: why didn’t David just come to New York with me for a holiday? David’s response: “How long have you known me, Dad?”

Understandably, excitement did give way to outright panic within 24 hours but by then David had purchased his charity ticket with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation to enter the race (the only remaining option, ten weeks before the race) and there was no going back. We were going to New York, baby! There was just this small matter of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, followed by a marathon (42.2km).

Rather him, than me, was all I kept thinking…

Fast forward to race day in Lake Placid on Sunday 27 July. We were up at 4:15am and walking to Mirror Lake in the heart of the town by 5am. When I asked David how he was feeling he responded that he’d “gone non-verbal”. I, on the other hand, seemed to have gone “emotional”.  A supporter rode past the other competitors and supporters walking to the start and wished everyone good luck with such exuberance, my eyes started to well up. I saw a man in a wheelchair with the tell-tale blue armband signifying that he was a competitor and I started to drizz. I kissed David goodbye as he made his way amongst the 2,700 competitors to his spot on the lake and I had a lump in my throat. They played the Star Spangled Banner before the gun went off and I found that emotional. And all I could think of was something that has been cropping up in my head alot lately: hashtag firstworldproblems.

A few months ago I saw a Twitter post with a picture of someone, somewhere, in a third world country, standing in front of a grass hut with the hashtag “first world problems”. It read something like this: “My house is so big, I need two modems to access wi-fi all over #firstworldproblems”. I think this hit home because most days I am seriously annoyed that the wi-fi coverage is not expansive enough for my needs. And here I was, on a luxury vacation in America, crying my eyes out because people with $15,000 tri bikes may or may not finish a crazy race called the Ironman? #firstworldproblems, I kept telling myself.

I pulled myself together, found my sister and her boyfriend who’d driven up from New York City for the weekend, and we watched the swimmers head off on their first lap. We managed to spot David amongst the crowd coming out of the water to start his second lap. By this time, the weather predictions had come true and it had started to rain fairly heavily. I saw a supporter with a badge which read “F*ck Cancer!”. That set me off. A little later I was standing in the rain watching competitors coming out of the water, having finished their swim. From Mirror Lake, they had to run about 400m to get to the transition area to climb onto their bikes. That was when I saw a man carrying the paraplegic competitor in his arms and sprinting, in the pouring rain, to the transition area. He was running like his life depended on it.

By now I was bawling my eyes out.

The rain started during the swim
The rain started during the swim

When I was standing at the finish line, expecting David any minute, the MC introduced a finisher and told the crowds she’d had a double mastectomy in 2011. Now she was – as the MC was calling the finishers – “an Ironman”. (Needless to say, that had me blubbing again).

Of the 2,700 competitors (a handful of whom were professionals) I saw many people with incredible, athletic physiques. I tend to categorize those people as different to me – naturally very talented at sport – and then it makes sense to me why they can compete in a full Ironman. But it seemed that for every super athletic looking person, there was a very “normal”, non-athletic looking competitor getting out of their wetsuit, grinding uphill on their bikes, jogging past me in their running shoes. Sure, they had strong, muscular quads, but many were overweight. Not obese, but honestly, quite chubby. I don’t say this as a criticism at all. To me, this proved that I was ultimately witnessing a testament to the power of the mind. For some, finishing the race was the equivalent of screaming “F*ck cancer!”. For some, it was a tribute to someone they had lost to cancer (or perhaps in other ways). Some may have been competing to overcome a “firstworldproblem”. And some may have simply competed for the personal challenge.

Regardless, it was inspiring – and very, very emotional – to watch.

Here is the story of David’s amazing achievement in pictures. He came 405th out of 2,772 athletes who started the race. Hashtag determination (and talent), my love. Well done!

Mirror Lake - site of the swim
Mirror Lake – site of the swim

 

My Ironman on his time trial bike. By then the rain had stopped.
My Ironman on his time trial bike. By then the rain had stopped.
David's support team: Justin, together with Sylvia in her MMRF charity t-shirt
David’s support team: Justin, together with Sylvia in her MMRF charity t-shirt
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David, coming out transition after the 180km cycle, about to embark on a marathon
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You are an Ironman now!

 

The Middle-aged Man in Crisis: The Age of Endurance Sport

He was not a carouser or a sportscar guy, and he already had a shed full of high-end bicycles – that other refuge of the middle-aged man in crisis.

Tim Lewis, “Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team”

I suppose it’s no accident that, as a 35 year old suburban mom, most of the men I come into contact with are… ahem…”middle-aged”. They are the spouses or partners of my friends and fellow mommies and they are in their late thirties or early forties. As to whether these men are “in crisis”, I can’t presume to know, but what I do know is that more than a handful of them have taken up endurance sports with the zeal of semi-professional athletes.

When The Princess was born, two dads we know ran their first Comrades Marathons within months of the birth of their first children.

Holidaying in Mauritius in December, we met a dad who had recently run the Otter African Trail Run and become obsessed with the sport. In fact, he was scanning the Mauritian landscape during our transfer from the airport and was considering doing a race whilst on holiday. His wife and I looked at one another knowingly. He responded by asking if she’d rather he found himself “a blonde from Benoni”. She said yes, she would actually prefer that, as he would’ve tired of the blonde more quickly.

I think she may have had a point.

Over the past several years, it feels to me as though The Iron Man and the “Half Iron” have become buzzwords. And I think David starting feeling left out. In December 2012 he took part in his first triathlon in St Francis Bay (a sprint distance triathlon).

But it wasn’t until about six weeks ago that he started talking seriously about the Buffelspoort Triathlon on 9 March. He would pop to the gym a few times a week to swim, he did a few slow runs with me (which I blogged about here) and kept up his cycling. Not being well versed in the in’s and out’s of triathlons, I assumed he was talking about a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) or perhaps an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run). But when I stopped to confirm the distances about 3 weeks ago, he was referring to a…gulp…ultra triathlon: 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run. The same as the Half Iron Man event. A few weeks ago his training dipped when he was travelling for work and he told me that he was having second thoughts about doing it. I completely encouraged him to laugh it off. When I was “training” for the 94.7 I wanted to be talked out of it when I moaned to my spouse so I figured it would only be fair to make him feel better about opting out. A week later he was still contemplating what to do. And then he said the key words:

“I’ll be in such a bad mood on that day if I don’t do it.”

“You should definitely do it,” I said immediately.

The night before Sunday’s event, he was literally cramming for the swim by studying an article in Triathlon magazine on common mistakes that triathletes make with respect to their swimming techniques.

The next day, our alarms went off at 3:30am, we were on the road by 4:15am and we arrived at Buffelspoort Dam in the North West Province by 6am for race registration.

Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers - possibly not the worst experience for middle-aged men in crisis
Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers – possibly not the worst experience for a middle-aged man in crisis

Once David had his body marking, it was time for him to set up his cycling and running gear in his transition area. Ever the light traveller, he just packed a few essentials:

All the gear...
All the gear…

Unfortunately, we were to discover that a triathlete’s transition area is not quite the same as a walk-in closet. You were not allowed to bring along a plastic version of a suitcase.

The next challenge was for him to put his newly purchased wetsuit on. We learnt that there is a special technique for this but fortunately, the lovely Carol from Troi Sports (herself an Olympic paddler, I believe) was there to help:

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She also told David that he should try to relax. She had no idea that he’d have had a better chance of giving birth at that juncture.

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Finally, at 7:11am the ultra competitors were off. David had said he’d be breaststroking the swimming leg (not his sporting forte). I thought that there was no way he would have the balls to do breaststroke in front of a bunch of cool, fit ultra triathletes.

But apparently, he did. Out of 170 swimmers, I could identify David as the only swimmer whose head bobbed up and down and whose arms did not exit the water. As a supporter, it was very convenient in terms of identification.

After two laps in the Buffelspoort Dam, David was out of the water and in his transition area to get kitted for the cycle. Here, it would be safe to say that Oscar nominees probably take less time to get dressed for their event. His transition time clocked in at no shorter than 6 minutes and 57 seconds. To give this some perspective, the winner took 1 minute 37 seconds, whilst most people took between 2 and 3 minutes. A few were slower and took just over 4 minutes. I even saw David folding his clothes and placing them in special, individual bags at one point.

But then he caned it on the cycle leg and also did very, very well on the run.

In the end, he came 60th out of 170 ultra competitors who finished the race. Not bad for a middle-aged man!

The 60th of 170 finishers
The 60th of 170 finishers
David's youngest supporter
David’s youngest supporter

Running with Husbands

A couple of years ago, The Husband suggested that we start running together again. I agreed – albeit somewhat apprehensively as he tends to take his sport very seriously. I reminded him that I hadn’t run in a long time and asked him how far he wanted to go.

“An absolute minimum of 5km. Anything shorter and it takes you longer to get dressed,” he replied.

“Not necessarily,” I said, “depends how long it takes you to run 5km”.

More recently, The Husband announced that he will be doing a triathlon on 9 March. A day or so later, he announced that he had begun his running training and had run 1km on the treadmill.

I burst out laughing. The man has spent more hours on a bicycle in the last five years than French people have spent at their desks and he was proud of himself for running 1km?

“A lot of people laughed when I told them that, but I have a plan!” he said. “It involves increasing your mileage in small increments.”

The following Saturday he wanted to know whether I cared to join him for a 2km run?

I took great pleasure in replying that it would take me longer to put my shoes on than it would to run 2km.

Then, on Sunday, he invited me to join him for a 3km run. Since the beginning of the year, my new running buddy, Judy, and I, have actually gone on a few very slow 5-6km trots, so I felt that I could continue to push myself beyond the 3km mark. I told The Husband that I knew a 5.5km route but that he was welcome to cut it short and run his 3km while I carried on. He agreed. Monday morning came along and off we set on our run around the neighbourhood.

I think I would have actually eaten my running shoe had The Husband waved goodbye and turned around after 1.5km.

We did 6km on Monday.

On Tuesday, we started to plan our Wednesday run.

“How far can you go?” he wanted to know.

“Um, since I’ve only actually been on about 5 runs in the last year and none of those have been further than 6km, I can run 6km.”

“That’s not far enough” said the man who, only three days before, had invited me on a 2km run. “What about 8km?”

Clearly, the man had a hearing problem but I didn’t feel like arguing.

“Fine, whatever, but what happened to your planning of adding 1km every run?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I ran out of time so I decided to add 1km every day, but if I miss a day of running then I still add another km the next day.”

“Right,” I nodded. “So, according to your custom training programme, how far are we supposed to be running tomorrow?”

The answer was 11km.

And I almost got bullied into signing up for the 21km route for the Hyundai Rock The Run on 16 March. Then I remembered announcing that I would ride the 94.7 cycle challenge last year and how tough it was to train for that race. So I stuck to my guns and declared that I would do the 10km route or nothing at all.

10km should be a breeze – in terms of The Husband’s training schedule we should be on about 39km a day by mid-March.

Le Cr*p d’Antibes

The Princess and I had the most wonderful time with my cousin and her family outside Zurich while The Husband completed The Haute Route from Geneva to Nice.

The three of us were then re-united in Nice and made our way to Antibes for our non-cycling family holiday. We’d scoped out the area in June 2010 when we’d spent a few nights in Juan-les-Pins, just next door to Antibes. Before that trip, I knew of Juan-les-Pins only as the glamorous destination of the woman being addressed in the 1969 song “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt. In the song, Juan-les-Pins is on a par with St Moritz in terms of fashionable locations frequented by the jet set. Although I am really fond of Juan-Les-Pins, in some ways it kind of feels as though it is past its prime. I suspect that today’s uber jet set, have migrated just a few kilometres onto the peninsula of Cap d’Antibes, which has mini cliff faces instead of beaches, like its neighbours on either side of the peninsula: Juan-les-Pins and Antibes. But I suspect that like Cap d’Antibes’ most famous resident, Roman Abramovich, many of the residents are not too concerned about beach access given that they have their own yachts…

We chose a hotel with a small beach located near the centre of Antibes, bordering the gorgeous Old Town of Antibes on the one side and Cap d’Antibes on the other. For my morning run, I would run alongside the ocean through Cap d’Antibes and back. My first run must have been on rubbish collection morning, because I ran past a household which had evidently run out of dustbin bags. So as not to miss collection day, their trash had been elegantly placed in an assortment of different sized Chanel shopping bags.

Such is life in Cap d’Antbes…

View from Cap d’Antibes across towards Antibes

In neighbouring Antibes, we spent our days on sun loungers on the beach. Well, to be exact, we paid our 20 euros for our sun loungers, threw our towels on them and then spent most of our time running after The Princess. Although there were those cherished mid-morning moments when The Princess would pass out in her pram for her daily nap and we’d be able to get in some reading…

Mid-morning siesta on the beach

And then she’d wake up and we’d have to mediate the fight over beach toys between Italian, Russian, British and Dutch children and The Princess, who sees no reason to share whatsoever. The Queen of our little beach was undoubtedly a feisty little 21 month old Italian girl named Flaminia. Brown as a berry, she’d strut around in her little bikini bottoms like she owned the place and in a way she kind of did. She and her parents had booked front row sun-loungers in advance and Flaminia had the coolest toys. One morning she arrived with a pink, plastic cart on wheels… I could just smell disaster… The Princess LOVES anything on wheels that she can push or drag. Sure enough, a fight ensued, during which Flaminia’s parents insisted that she share her cart with The Princess. Flaminia was not amused and let the whole beach know it. Can’t really blame her – it was a very cool cart. Around lunch-time, Flaminina and her parents would say goodbye and then her parents would return, sans Flaminia, for a leisurely afternoon of reading and sun-bathing. The Husband and I daydreamed about how they achieved this. My money was on an Italian mamma stashed away in their holiday apartment, whilst The Husband was betting on a nanny. When never did find out whether either or these theories bore any resemblance to reality…

In the evenings, we’d retire to our room to put The Princess to bed and settle in with room service and a bottle of French wine. And so, when The Husband decided that he’d treat us to lunch at Eden Roc (an uber fancy hotel in Cap d’Antibes frequented by the jet set) I decided to bust out my best frock and my gold sandals, since this was going to be my only chance. (Okay, I had worn the dress to dinner in Geneva, but since we ate dinner at 6pm with The Princess, we were literally the only people in the restaurant at the time, so that didn’t count.) The thing I didn’t bank on was that everyone else at Eden Roc had either floated away from the pool for a spot of lunch or they’d stepped off their yachts. Literally. I mean they’d stepped off their yachts into a little Eden Roc boatie thingie and been deposited on the hotel’s jetty just below the poolside restaurant. So pretty much all the other diners were in their bathing suits with matching cover-ups (those sheer, long-sleeved tunic/ kaftan things that go over swimsuits). A few girls upped the game when they paired their bathing suit ensembles with high heels. Suddenly my gold flats from Woolies weren’t looking quite as out of place. Phew.

View from Eden Roc’s poolside restaurant

Our last beach day in Antibes was unfortunately tainted by a sea water warning. The life-guard on our hotel’s beach was quietly going up to anyone entering the water and telling them that the sea was uncharacteristically dirty on that particular day and that he strongly advised against swimming. When I enquired as to what may have caused this, he ventured that a boat must have “let go something” (direct translation from the French). Reading between the lines – and looking at the white, chalky particles we could sea floating in the Mediterranean – The Husband and I deduced that one of the luxury yachts we could see from the shore, must have dumped their cr*p into the water – quite literally. After The Princess somehow picked up salmonella and ecoli in the Seychelles with its pristine beaches and sea water, I decided that our beach holiday needed to end a few hours early and we retired to our air conditioned room.

I guess even the likes of those who wear high heels with their bathing suits, still have to cr*p…

Geneva to Megeve via Perrignier

This is one of those travel stories that is kind of amusing in its hopelessness when you tell it afterwards, but absolutely horrendous as you experience it unfolding…

The Princess and I had planned to travel to a ski village in the French Alps, called Megeve, where the riders would end their first stage of the Haute Route. We’d be at the finish for The Husband, cheering for him and congratulating him on successfully completing the first stage of this hardcore race.

The most convenient way of getting to Megeve, about 100km from Geneva, would have been by car, but I didn’t fancy driving on the wrong side of the road, in unknown territory, up into the mountains, with very precious cargo… And so I enquired of the concierge about alternative means of transport several weeks ago. I was told that there was a bus from Geneva which would be alot simpler and more direct than a train. So that was the plan. Here was the route we’d take:

Geneva to Megeve

Unfortunately, when I enquired about bus times the night before, the new concierge on duty discovered that, in fact, buses only ran between Geneva and Megeve during the ski season, so our only option was to take a train (or a taxi, which would only set us back around R7,000 there and back, but “that wouldn’t cover a Mercedes, Madam.”)

The train it was to be, then. Normally, a train journey to the town closest to Megeve, called Sallanches, would involve a one-way journey of roughly two and a half hours and we’d have to change trains twice. Not ideal, but especially not ideal with a baby in a stroller. Fortunately, there was one train option at a convenient time where we’d only have to change once, so naturally I decided on that one. When I asked if we could book the tickets on-line in advance, the concierge discovered that we’d only be able to buy tickets for the first portion of our journey, which would take us over the border into France. Thereafter, we’d have to purchase more tickets for our onward journey with the French train authorities.

We only had thirteen minutes to alight the train, find the ticket office, buy more tickets and then find the platform to catch the next train, but we actually made it and got onto what I thought was our final train journey before we’d alight in Sallanches and catch a five minute taxi drive to Megeve.

Our journey seemed to be going well until I vaguely caught the tail end of an announcement in French, that I thought may have suggested something about certain passengers needing to change trains. I brushed this off at first, but then decided to check with my neighbour to be certain, since there was no conductor in sight and moving through a train with a stroller wasn’t a quick exercise. Unfortunately, my neighbour didn’t have a clue and I figured that everything should be fine, so I relaxed and watched The Princess finally pass out in her pram after the morning’s excitement.

When I no longer saw Sallanches listed as one of the stops on the digital screen above our carriage, I started to panic. The panic rose as the train pulled off. Just then the conductor appeared as if out of nowhere. He confirmed my fears. He’d made an announcement stating that everyone travelling south, should have changed trains at the station we’d just left, Annemasse.

Cr*p!

And this was not a train line with regular trains, so it was not a case of hopping off at the next station and hopping back onto another train 30 minutes later. I decided then that the best thing to do would be to take a taxi from the next station that would be geographically  nearest to Megeve. The conductor told me that none of the stations would be near, but I insisted that he told me which would be the nearest. He then checked his little pamphlet and told me it was “Thonon-Les-Bains”. Still, I wanted greater certainty, so I turned on my data roaming and tried to get Google to tell me where we were. Of course, we were in the sticks and so for ages I couldn’t get a connection. When I finally could, it didn’t look pretty. It looked like this:

We’d left Annemasse (point “B” on the map above), which was east of Geneva (point “A” on the map) and instead of travelling south towards Sallanches (point “D”), near Megeve, we were in fact very much heading north, in exactly the wrong direction. To me Thonon- Les-Bains (point “C” on the map) did not look like the best place to catch a cab to Megeve geographically speaking.

This led me to make the executive decision to get off at the next stop before we travelled any further north at all. The next stop was called Perrignier – point “C” on the map below:

As I dragged the sleeping Princess off the train backwards in her stroller, I had a strong feeling I may have made the wrong decision. It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere. But of course, before I could change my mind, the regional train had gone chugging off and we were stuck on the platform of Perrignier.

At first, I literally could not see how one exited the platform. There was no subway in sight and there was a fence surrounding us. Then I noticed some cement slabs where one was literally expected to cross over the tracks – that’s how small the Perrignier station was. Just for a laugh, I decided to venture into the microscopic building where a ticket office might have been. But of course, it was only a musty waiting area with a bench.

All hope was not lost, however, and like every one-horse French town, Perrignier boasts its very own Cafe de la Gare (station cafe). This is it:

Cafe de la Gare, Perrignier, France

Unlike the picture suggests, the parking lot was full last Sunday when we arrived and I accosted a man climbing into his truck, wanting to know how I could find a taxi. I had to pause in between because the reality of where I was with my 17 month old baby had dawned on me and I was struggling to complete the sentence in between panicked sobs. He patiently told me that I should go into the bar and ask for help there.

You would think that at 11am on a Sunday morning, Perrignier’s Cafe de la Gare would have resembled the waiting room of Perrignier’s train station, but you’d be wrong. The place was packed. A number of the patrons could no longer boast anything close to a full set of teeth, but nonetheless…The bar was single-handedly run by the only woman in the establishment besides myself – an angel called Caroline, who took pity on The Princess and I and set about asking her patrons if they knew any taxi drivers who’d be willing to take us to Megeve on a Sunday. Just as I thought things may be looking up for us, one of the patrons put the front page of the local newspaper in front of Caroline and I. This was what it said:

And it translates to: “The Big Pain Of Finding A Taxi”. I confess that I can’t recall what the article said but the point was clear – taxis in the area were not exactly prolific at the best of times.

Fortunately, however, Caroline didn’t quit. She eventually got hold of a guy she’d been at high school with about thirty years earlier, who said he’d be there in half an hour. In the meantime, the sleeping Princess and I found a table by the door to try to avoid the smoke fumes, settled down to wait and I surveyed the bar scene I had somehow found myself in, despite having woken up in our comfy Geneva hotel by the lake five hours earlier…

Inside the Cafe de la Gare, Perrignier

About 35 minutes later, our taxi driver arrived and couldn’t have been nicer. I hadn’t even thought to request a taxi with a baby seat for The Princess as I thought that that would have severely hampered our options, but he said that he had a seat in his garage which was five minutes drive in the wrong direction. I decided it would definitely be a good idea, so we set off with The Princess fast asleep strapped into a seat belt on the seat next to me.

Nothing could have prepared me for her reaction when I tried to transfer her onto what turned out to only be a booster cushion and not an actual baby car seat. She went absolutely crazy. She was screaming her lungs out, her bottom lip was quivering and she was almost hyperventilating. It was quite scary. I had to ask the taxi driver to stop the car so that we could get out three times. Every time I tried to put her back in the car – not even strapped into the booster cushion – she went nuts. Eventually, I asked the taxi driver to take us to the nearest and largest train station as I just didn’t see how The Princess would stay in the car for the next hour. He told me that the nearest station was Annemasse (where we were supposed to change trains for the second time on our morning’s journey) and that we were currently about 35 minutes drive from both Annemasse and Geneva. With The Princess’ hysterical crying vibrating in my inner ear, I took the flash decision to return to Geneva.

The Princess continued screaming blue murder for what seemed like eternity. Other than trying to remain calm, I had no idea what to do. Any attempt at distraction only seemed to fuel her anger and/or frustration even more. What finally did the trick was quietly humming “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”. I was too terrified to stop singing lest she start up again and ended up humming the tune all the way back to Geneva. Yes, the taxi driver was very kind and long-suffering…

So sadly, we never got to Megeve to see The Husband at the end of his first stage of the Haute Route. He had a brilliant first stage, coming around 260th out of nearly 600 riders. And he continued to do phenomenally well in all of his six subsequent stages, coming in amongst the the top 300 riders or better (barring the time trial when he came in the 300’s).

Well done, my love! You have just proved that you can do anything you put your mind to!

I am pleased to say that The Princess and I were at the end of the seventh and final stage which finished on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Saturday. Well, sort of – the peleton procession entered Nice earlier than the organisers had warned everyone and so The Princess and I saw them pass us about 1km from the finish line and had to dash after 600 riders to try to get to the finish before them. We didn’t quite make it before the Alpine cyclists, but when we finally got there and The Princess saw The Husband, her undisguised joy at seeing her daddy again after a week, made it all worthwhile, for all of us.

And there ended our 2012 Haute Route adventures. Next up was three days of beach time in Antibes, when The Husband’s bike stood on the balcony in pieces, not to be touched for a glorious 72 hour period…

To Geneva for The Haute Route

About two months ago, The Princess saw a cycling magazine lying face down on the floor of our bathroom. At the time, her vocabulary barely stretched beyond “Mamma”, “Dadda” and when she spotted the magazine in question, she pointed at it and exclaimed:

“Dadda! Dadda!”

This is a picture of what she was pointing at:

This is “Dadda” in the eyes of The Princess

Basically, if he’s on a bicycle then he must be Daddy. (The picture is actually Ivan Basso – you’d only know who he was if you were cycling obsessed or married to someone who’s cycling obsessed). This just shows how much time The Husband has been spending on his bike in the last six months, or since The Princess has been alert enough to be aware of his riding. The word “by” (for “bike” was amongst her first ten words) so the sport is a big feature in her little life.

And this sport – or rather, The Husband’s obsession with it – has brought our little family to Geneva, Switzerland, where a race called The Haute Route will began today. The race runs over seven days, from Geneva to Nice, over NINETEEN (gulp!) mountain passes in the Alps, so it is only for the super fit, super motivated and/or super insane. The race is 780km long and has 21,000m of climbing. Geography, with its deathly dull topics like map contours, was never my favourite subject and so I can’t say I would ordinarily really understand the meaning of 21,000m of climbing in seven days. The fear in The Husband’s voice when he speaks of this, though, has given me a hint.

So if you’re like me, here’s a graphical illustration of what 21,000m of climbing means:

Profile of The Haute Route 2012

Our journey from Jozi began on Tuesday evening with an 8:30pm flight to London when The Princess broke her “number-of-consecutive-hours-awake” record. She woke up from her day nap at 11:30am that morning and finally, finally, finally passed out on the plane at five minutes to 11pm that night. Then we had a five hour layover in London, before our flight to Geneva. All in all, the entire journey went off relatively smoothly considering we were travelling with a 16 month old. And then, when we’d finally, finally arrived at our Geneva Hotel, I realised that I’d left my backpack with laptop and I-pad, on the plane. Fortunately, no-one in the first world is keen on nicking the I-pad 1 and a Macbook from 2009 and so my only inconvenience in this whole saga was a return journey to the Geneva airport. Phew!

We arrived ahead of the hottest weekend Switzerland has experienced this summer. This weekend, the temperature rose to 35 degrees. I clearly recall what 35 degrees felt like inland, in the south of France, in August last year. It was death. Absolutely unbearable. But somehow 35 degrees at the foot of Mont Blanc, on the shores of a lake feels hot, but just a tad breezy and therefore somewhat bearable.

I have never been to Geneva before but I suspect that the experience of visiting this city in the dead of winter may not be all that great. In summer, I have to say, I think it’s awesome, mainly thanks to the beautiful lake that it’s centred around. Everything seems to happen on or around the lake: I’ve only been running in the mornings or walking with The Husband and The Princess, but there are people on bicylces, on rollerblades and on scooters. You can also water ski or wakeboard on the lake and The Princess and I even went to a teeny little sandy beach called literally called “Baby Plage” (not translated from the French – that’s the actual name) where you can swim in a cordoned off area of the lake.

If it weren’t for how hideously expensive everything is, in summertime, one does feel as though one could live here. A cappuccino in our hotel’s lounge will set you back just under 80ZAR. And that’s without a tip, which is expected. In December, we were horrified when we had to pay R100 an hour for babysitting in a five star hotel. In our Geneva hotel, babysitting sets you back a cool R340 per hour, at present exchange rates. You almost want your child to wake up and cause havoc at that price!

We treated ourselves to a date night with a babysitter one evening and it was then that I realised how much I adore my husband. The menu had two possibilities for beef fillet – one for ladies and one for men. The men’s portion was 220g and the ladies portion was 130g.

“ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY GRAMS? Are they taking the piss here or what?” is what I was thinking. “I mean, in South Africa, a standard ladies fillet is 200g so does that mean that Swiss men eat only one bite of steak more than South African women?”

Tick, tock, tick, tock…

All eyes were on me to place my order. And I was simply not woman enough to order the man’s portion.

“I’ll have the fillet mesdames, please,” I spluttered.

And this was the moment of admiration and adoration:

“Don’t be ridiculous! 130g of steak? That’s nothing! You can’t have that! Have the 220g portion! Seriously!”

I was secretly thrilled as I could just picture the microscopic nature of a 130g piece of steak but I couldn’t capitulate too easily or it would look like that’s what I was thinking all along… Fortunately, the waiter was sharp and read the situation beautifully. He chipped in to support The Husband’s protestations against embarrassing women into starvation with miniscule portion sizes and I had the 220g portion.

To wrap up this Geneva blog, here’s a photo of something I found quite amusing. It was on the window of an apparently up-market watch shop:

On the window of a Geneva watch store

I guess in a country where artisanal watch brands that originated centuries ago abound, it becomes increasingly difficult to apply the old-fashioned art of understatement…

Cement for our Marriage

The French are so funny. You cannot throw a stompie and hit a French person who doesn’t smoke. In cafes, in the street, they’ll blow their smoke right on top of your baby without batting an eye. They’ll smoke all over your fragrant, Provencal plate of food. Chefs and restaurant owners will sit down with regular patrons and smoke on top of you while you try to savour the taste of their wondrous French fare. You can also bring your smelly mutt to most restaurants and to many hotels.
But God forbid you should pollute the environment by misclassifying your recycling.
For the latter, hefty fines are apparently imposed. You are also, we just learned last night, not allowed to poison rodents in your own home. According to our landlord, Steve, this might just be illegal – he’d have to check but he certainly did not look impressed when we called him over to introduce him to the rodents that have been rudely interrupting our dinner for the past ten days. Steve informed us that these were neither rats, nor mice. Rather, they are “harmless” rodents known as “mulots”, indigenous to the South of France. Sort of like field mice, he described, only bigger.
Much bigger, I’d like to add.
Just one of the South of France’s many contrasts…
That said, we still dream of one day owning a holiday home here. The Husband has decided that inland in the countryside there are “too many insects”. I’m not sure if this means that we should rather be setting our sights on Beijing if we want a holiday home that’s insect free, but we’ll see…
So far we’ve determined that our next French adventure will be on the coast. To this end, we explored the little hamlets of Agay and Antheor, close to St Raphael and just west of Cannes, the other day. Agay was cute but it was Antheor that was really spectacular. A less up-market version of Clifton with cliffside houses overlooking a pristine, turquoise sea. With The Princess perched in her pouch on The Husband’s chest, we descended the 130 steps (I counted on the way up to try and keep my breathing even) to one of the many mini beaches. It is nearing the end of high season now so things are still busy but thankfully the masses have gone home. Because of this, we were able to enjoy the beach with just a few other people. It made our day when we could just overhear a woman near us remark to her partner that The Princess was “magnifique”. We were basking in pride!
The Husband has become rather caught up in the romance of the French language and as such is making an attempt to learn it. The method at the moment involves us lying in bed with him painstakingly reading Tintin in its original French version and me translating. I have to say that he’s learnt quite a lot. Although he still gets confused with his basic Spanish and will find himself asking for “la cuenta” in restaurants instead of “l’addition”.
His love affair with the French language, however, is mild compared to his ongoing love affair with cycling. Over the years as I’ve seen his sporting obsessions go from rock climbing to mountain biking to road cycling, my view has always been: “Have fun, honey, just don’t torture me.” This has worked pretty well for us until two days ago when he drove three and a half hours to summit the famous Tour de France climb of Mont Ventoux. There he overhead a South African accent and proceeded to meet a 66 year old teacher from Cresta who had just ascended Mont Ventoux on a tandem, with her husband, a retired butcher.
“She took up cycling when she was 43,” he told me afterwards, “so there is plenty of time for you!”
I explained what he already knows, which is that when two people both like to be in charge, a tandem is not a good idea. He said he’d asked the teacher whether a tandem hadn’t perhaps negatively impacted her relationship.
“Not at all!” she replied emphatically. “It’s like cement for our marriage!”
I was thinking it’d be more like quicksand for ours, but the next day we went to the nearby Lac St Cassien – a beautiful, azur body of water just 20km from Fayence. Because The Husband can’t sit still, we hired one of those pedal boats. We climbed on, started pedalling and i found that my feet were just going around and around without any effort at all. I asked The Husband if he felt the same but of course it turned out that he was doing all the work.
“You see, baby, it would be just like this on a tandem!” he said.
Now we’re talking…